Saturday, 27 July 2013

What are the limits of science?

What are the limits of science?  That's a common question.  Fortunately the answer is simple: there aren't any.  There is no aspect of reality that is hidden from science. Science isn't a region with boundaries, and it isn't limited to a set of rules or a philosophy.  Science is beautifully simple; it's trying to answer questions about what is real by looking to see what is real.  That's all science is, and yet that is it's power.  Science asks the questions by going to actually look for the answers.  This may seem so obvious that there should be no dispute, and yet there is constant controversy, for several reasons.

One reason is that science often reveals answers that people don't want to hear.  Science has made it perfectly clear for centuries that there is no life force, and so no supernatural soul, but there are many religions and philosophical traditions that start from the contrary position.

Another reason is that science doesn't give answers about matters that are falsely believed to be about reality.  An example of this is morality.  Science can't say what we should do when it comes to moral questions because morality is a fiction.  A necessary fiction, a shared fiction, but still not anything that can be measured.  Science can, and should, inform moral decisions, as science can certainly help us to understand the metrics of physical well-being and mental health, but that is not the same as coming to a moral decision.  

Finally, science may not always tell us useful stories.  Science can investigate the reality of an artistic experience by revealing brain activity, but that probably won't tell us anything of interest.

However, there is no domain of reality, which includes everything real about humanity, that isn't open to science, and that's partly because science has told us so much about what humanity actually is - an evolved African ape, with a material body and a neurological soul.

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